Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. A friend I know very well hates visiting hospitals. It’s not that he doesn’t care about the sick. It’s just that he has an understandable fear of them and the human wound that is illness. This Divine Mercy Sunday encourages us to do the opposite: not to be afraid of human wounds but to touch them in love and compassion.
Today’s Gospel tells the great story of doubting Thomas who refuses to believe that Jesus is risen unless he can see him and place his finger into the wounds in his hands and side. Later Jesus appears to him and allows Thomas to touch his wounds to which Thomas replied with those beautiful words of faith ‘My Lord and my God!’ Of course the incident has to do with faith but it is fascinating how Jesus invites Thomas and the other disciples to see his wounds and to touch them. This detail was not lost on St Peter who later wrote of the Lord: ‘By his wounds we have been healed’ (1 Pet. 2:24). This time last week at the Easter Vigil, the liturgy also drew our attention to Jesus’ five wounds as the celebrant placed the five grains of incense into the paschal candle with these words: ‘By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard us and protect us’. So what are these five wounds on Christ’s body, how do we touch them and how do they heal us? Here is a thought experiment of what these five wounds might represent.
First there are our own wounds we carry. We all know what they are – scars of living, hurts, betrayal, mistakes, regrets, human weaknesses and memories of failure. It is vital that we know what these wounds are and be in touch with them. When we are in touch with our own woundedness and brokenness, it allows us to acquire a humility and self-knowledge. It makes us kind and not cruel towards our neighbours so that we are compassionate with them in their struggles. For those who suffer themselves are far more compassionate to the suffering than those who have not suffered at all.
Second, there are the wounds of our families. There is no such thing as a perfect family so in every family circle there are wounds. Often we try to skirt around these wounds and avoid them. But they are there and we must face up to them. Doing so makes us see the need for Jesus’ creative healing and to invite him in to our wounds with his forgiveness and understanding.
Third, there are the wounds of the sick. Every hospital building is an icon of the wound of human illness. Let us never pass by a hospital without thinking and praying for those in there. Let never a day pass when we do not remember the sick and dying. When we do so, they benefit from our prayers and solidarity but so do we benefit in being grateful for our health as our own troubles are given a proper perspective.
Fourth, we touch the wounds of the Church. We face up to the hurt and damage caused to people during the abuse crisis. We also acknowledge the pain of division among Christians and the pain suffered by persecuted Christians for their faith.
Lastly, we touch the wounds of the world that grieve all of humanity. We think of Ukraine at this time, the refugees, the hungry and the homeless. We think of those killed by violence in wars and those who die of famine and disease. This is the body of humanity that we are part of – a body scarred by the wounds that Jesus came to heal and save by his death and resurrection.
Friends these are the five wounds of Christ that we are asked to touch and not to turn away. Like Thomas, only by doing so can we come to true faith and knowledge of the God who became wounded by love for our sake. I conclude with a beautiful line from a poem by St John of the Cross: ‘O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest centre! (The Living Flame of Love).